New Delhi's problems with the upcoming Commonwealth Games, taking place from October 3 to 14, continue to mount. The area where the bulk of the athletes are to be housed is so badly waterlogged that it has become a major breeding ground for dengue carrying mosquitoes. Since the municipal authorities have abjectly failed to cope with the heavy monsoonal rains and their aftermath, the local government has now sought the assistance of the Indian Army to help with the drainage problems.
The army has a well-deserved record for providing assistance to civilian authorities in the event of natural disasters. However, at least in recent memory this is the first time that the armed forces have been called upon to deal with rank ineptitude and incompetence. Indeed, it gives the term ‘placing matters on a war footing’ an entirely new meaning! The pun would be amusing were it not for the fact that the need to call in the army is emblematic of the problems of urban governance in India. A host of routine problems are neglected until they reach crisis proportions. When matters tend to become truly untenable, the concerned authorities launch a dramatic drive to prevent a complete collapse of civic amenities. The moment the crisis is contained the usual slothful attitude toward matters of garbage collection, drainage and sewage again prevails.
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Of course in the case of the Games, the organizers, the municipal authorities and the local government were all too tardy in their preparations for an enterprise of this mammoth proportion. To compound matters, the monsoonal rains which wreak havoc under the best of circumstances have been especially vigorous this year. As a consequence, the normal problems of water logging and all its concomitant irritants have been dramatically enhanced.
It’s possible that the army, which remains a disciplined, reliable and tenacious entity, will manage to bring an otherwise shambolic situation under some semblance of control. Even if it does, though, the mere fact that it had to be called upon to solve what are basic issues of municipal governance could serve as a disquieting postscript to the Games.